Mind the gaps!
Amateur Gardening|November 20, 2021
Spaces between plants can be a boon for weeds, but if you choose the right ground cover they will shoulder-out the weeds, says Anne Swithinbank
Anne Swithinbank
GROWTH this year has been phenomenal, stoked by warm weather and, in many areas, regular rainfall. Any gaps between plants have been quickly colonised by weeds and for busy gardeners like me, the low-maintenance answer has been plenty of ground cover. Our exotic border is a great example, as by midsummer there was no soil visible between clumps of Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’, Geranium ‘Azure Rush’ and Kniphofia caulescens. Even the resident ground elder disappeared under the matrix of growth, proving that dense planting can win the day.

In the gaps between larger trees, shrubs and perennials, carpets of ground-hugging plants with dense root systems will shoulder out weeds and effectively shade the soil surface, preventing moisture loss caused by evaporation during hot sunny weather, or the drying effect of wind.

In my view, a successful ground-cover plant should act as a handsome foil to the major players in the border and, once established, it should be tough enough to hold its own despite a few years of neglect.

Now, while remnants of growth are still visible, is a good time to take stock and work out where more ground cover is needed. Choose plants to suit their environment (sun, shade, wet or drier soils), but also to chime with the mood of their surroundings.

Suiting the environment

For an informal, partially shaded border, drought-tolerant native wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia) attracts pollinating insects with a haze of paleyellow flowers above crinkled foliage. In a sunny, west-facing border between shrubs, we have an underplanting of aromatic Sicilian chamomile (Anthemis punctata subsp. cupaniana) that has lasted for many years with little input.

Artistry in setting out the plants

There is artistry in setting out groundcover plants, by opting for carpets of one thing, interlocking blocks of a variety or a mix of complementary plants dotted in among each other. Their roots tend to occupy the top 8in (20cm) or so of soil and won’t interfere with larger, deeper-rooted specimen plants.

Unless you want to act as a referee, I would avoid ivy, vinca (periwinkle), yellow-flowered mock strawberry (Duchesnea indica), and the thuggish Abraham-Isaac-Jacob (Trachystemon orientalis), as without constant monitoring they easily become invasive.

9 ground-cover plants

For sun

Anthemis punctata subsp. cupaniana AGM

Reaching a May to July peak with white daisies and silvery aromatic foliage, this woody-based evergreen perennial has year-round presence. Easy to propagate by cuttings. HxS: 12x24in (30x60cm).

Helianthemum ‘Rhodanthe Carneum’ AGM

A low-growing, shrubby evergreen sun rose, this one is dotted with pale-pink flowers 1in (2.5cm) across from spring to summer. Plants spread out, excluding weeds. H: 12x18in (30x45cm).

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